The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of stress and anxiety for many people, negatively affected people’s mental health, especially for people who are already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. As the number of cases of COVID-19 increases, fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones can be overwhelming. Dr. Ziyi Wang, a skilled Primary Care Physician practicing at Lakeview Primary Care in Farmington, Utah has experience treating patients around the world, and shares her knowledge on Mental Health and those affected by the pandemic:
In your opinion, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected people’s mental health?
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only caused a lot of stress and anxiety, especially among those who were already vulnerable, but it has also added to the fear of contracting the virus and losing our loved ones. Among other stressors, there are the significant changes to our daily lives such as social distancing from friends and other family members, temporary unemployment, home schooling of children and closures of businesses can lead to increases in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Increased depression and anxiety related to COVID-19 pandemic may result in higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide. The COVID-19 pandemic also caused negative impact on the mental health of healthcare workers who are experiencing occupational burnout and fatigue.
What are some signs and symptoms of mental health issues?
Signs and symptoms of depression:
- Feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless
- Loss of interest or no longer enjoy the things that you used to enjoy
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling sluggish frequently
- Anger, irritability, or restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or recalling
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty going to and staying a sleep, or oversleeping
- Feeling guilty or experiencing feeling of worthlessness or helplessness
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts, self-harm behavior
Signs of symptoms of anxiety:
- Racing thoughts
- Restlessness, irritability, or feeling on edge
- Difficulty controlling worry or fear
- Panic attacks with rapid pounding heart rate, increased sweating, fast breathing, and sense of impending doom or danger, etc
- Muscle tension
- Feeling fatigue, difficulty concentrating or recalling
- Sleep disturbance
What are some self-care strategies, or ways to coping with mental health issues at home?
Be mindful about your mental health is importance, and self-care strategies are beneficial not only for people’s mental health but also their physical health. Self-care strategies include:
- Keep a regular routine: regular bedtime schedule to ensure adequate amount of sleep, consistent mealtime and work/study schedule, as well as exercise routine. It’s also importance to set aside some “me time” for activities and hobbies that you enjoy so you can relax and recharge.
- Eat healthy and exercise regularly: Avoid loading up on junk food and refined sugar. Limit caffeine as it can aggravate stress and anxiety. Regular exercises can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. The key is to find the types of exercises you enjoy and make it part of your routine. Exercise for 30 minutes at least 4-5 times a week can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health.
- Limit screen time: Social media can sometime contribute to worsening mental illness as it may increase stress. It also takes away the time you could spend on more meaningful activities. Constant exposure to news about the pandemic from all types of media can increase stress and fear about the disease. There are still a lot of uncertainties over the COVID-19 virus. As more information becomes available, in order to stay up to date on national and local recommendations, people should look for reliable sources such as the CDC and WHO.
- Stay connected: As we continue to encourage social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19, you can find time to make virtual connections by phone calls, texts, emails, or video calls using FaceTime, Zoom or similar apps. This can strengthen your connection with others during this difficult time.
- Remember to breathe: Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress. Take a few slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, in a sitting or a comfortable position. You can do this whenever you feel overwhelmed or stressed.
When should I see a mental health provider and how can seeing one be beneficial during these trying times?
Increased stress and anxiety can be a normal response during the pandemic, but if it starts to affect your daily lives and push you beyond your ability to cope, it might be time to seek health from your primary care provider or a mental health provider. You may discuss with your provider the next step in better managing your mental health, such as lifestyle changes, medications, or other resources including counseling and psychotherapy treatment. Mental health is an importance part of our overall health and wellbeing. Recognizing the signs of mental illness and treating it early can help prevent long lasting or worsening emotional, behavioral and physical health problems.
Will seeing a provider in person during the pandemic affect my physical health?
Seeing a provider in person during the pandemic will not affect your physical health. Certain problems may require seeing a provider in person. Medical facilities are taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some outpatient clinics are keeping separate waiting rooms for patients with possible infectious illness and adjusting their clinic hours to avoid waiting room crowding.